Szarwak v. Warden, Connecticut Correctional Institution

Decision Date23 July 1974
Citation355 A.2d 49,167 Conn. 10
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court

John F. Mulcahy, Jr., Deputy Chief State's Atty., with whom were Robert E. Beach, Jr., and Richard R. Brown, Asst. Pros. Attys., for appellant (defendant).

Leonard I. Shankman, Hartford, for appellee (plaintiff).

Richard R. Stewart, Hartford, filed a brief as amicus curiae but did not argue the case.


HOUSE, Chief Justice.

This appeal is from a judgment rendered on the plaintiff's amended petition for a writ of habeas corpus. The pertinent facts are not in dispute. The plaintiff was initially charged in the Circuit Court with fourteen counts, seven charging the receipt of stolen credit cards and seven charging the receipt of stolen property. By a substituted information, he was charged with a single count of receiving stolen credit cards and one count of receiving stolen property in violation of §§ 53a-128c(e) and 53a-125 of the General Statutes, respectively. The plaintiff, represented by a public defender, entered pleas of not guilty to both counts and elected a jury trial which commenced on May 17, 1973. The following day, after several of the state's witnesses had testified and the state had presented approximately half of its case, the prosecutor and the public defender entered into plea bargaining negotiations. Immediately thereafter the prosecutor nolled the second count, and the plaintiff pleaded guilty to the one count of receiving stolen credit cards in violation of § 53a-128c(e) of the General Statutes, a class D felony punishable under the penal code by a maximum sentence of five years imprisonment or a $5000 fine or both. See General Statutes §§ 53a-35(b), 53a-41.

The prosecutor informed the trial court that the guilty plea was a result of an agreement reached by plea negotiations, the terms of which were a recommended sentence of not less than one year nor more than two years imprisonment to be served concurrently with the balance, if any, of a prison term which the plaintiff might have to serve due to a parole violation. The public defender added nothing to the prosecutor's representation of the terms of the agreement. The trial court thereupon conducted an extensive and exhaustive inquiry into the voluntariness of the guilty plea asking the plaintiff if he understood the nature and the essential elements of the charge to which he had pleaded guilty and if he understood that the maximum penalty which could be imposed was five years imprisonment or a possible $5000 fine or both; that the court was not bound by the prosecutor's recommendation; that the plaintiff could not be compelled to make an incriminating statement or to take the stand and testify; that he had a right to plead not guilty, to remain silent, and to confront and cross-examine the state's witnesses; and that if he pleaded not guilty, he had a right to a speedy and public trial by a jury or judge at which he would be presumed innocent until the state, by competent evidence, established his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. In response to each one of these questions, the plaintiff expressly answered in the affirmative. The trial court asked him if his guilty plea was induced by any threats or promises. The plaintiff replied that it was not. The plaintiff was asked again if he understood that the court was not bound by the agreed upon recommendation by the prosecutor or by any other recommendation which the prosecutor or the probation officer might make with respect to the disposition of his case. He answered that he understood. The court then further specifically informed him that even though the prosecution recommended a sentence of from one year to two years imprisonment to run concurrently with a term resulting from parole violation, the court, nevertheless, was not bound in sentencing either to accept the duration of the agreed upon sentence or to make the sentence concurrent with his confinement for violation of parole. To each explanation stated separately, the plaintiff replied that he understood. The court then inquired as to the sentence on the earlier charge, and the plaintiff stated that it was two to nine years for burglary, and that the unserved portion of it was five years.

The trial court then began an inquiry into whether there was a factual basis for the guilty plea, particularly pursuing the matter of the plaintiff's knowledge of the incriminating evidence found in his apartment. The trial court deferred a decision on acceptance of the plea until the plaintiff could confer privately with the public defender. During the recess, the public defender told the negotiating prosecutor that the plaintiff was concerned that the judge might impose a sentence greater than the one recommended and inquired what would happen in that event. The prosecutor replied that if that occurred, the state would not oppose a motion to withdraw the guilty plea.

After the court reconvened and after further inquiry by the court during which the plaintiff acknowledged seeing the stolen credit cards in his dresser drawer, the court determined that there was a factual basis for the charge to which the plaintiff wished to plead guilty. After a further extremely detailed inquiry into the facts constituting the crime and the state's proof thereof, and after again asking the plaintiff if he still wished to plead guilty, the court, after the plaintiff answered affirmatively, accepted the guilty plea. When asked if he had anything further to say, the plaintiff replied: 'No sir, that's all.'

The court made an express finding that the plaintiff fully understood the charges and the consequences of his plea; that he fully understood his constitutional rights, his right to engage counsel, his right to a trial and his right to confront his accusers; that he acted voluntarily in changing his plea to guilty; and that there was a factual basis for the charges to which the plea of guilty was entered.

After the plea of guilty was entered and accepted on May 18, 1973, the case was continued for a presentence investigation. At the sentencing hearing on June 15, 1973, which was held before the judge who had accepted the plaintiff's guilty plea, the prosecutor who negotiated the plea of guilty was unable to appear and another prosecutor took his place. At the outset of the hearing, the prosecutor recommended the agreed upon sentence. The plaintiff then moved to withdraw his guilty plea, stating as reasons therefor several grounds hereinafter discussed.

The court again explained to the plaintiff that on May 18 it had informed him that the court was not bound by the recommendation, and that it had a presentence investigation and report to assist it in making its decision as to a proper sentence in the case. The public defender told the court that the negotiating prosecutor was not objecting to a withdrawal of the plea at any time, even at sentencing. The sentencing prosecutor stated that while his basic reaction was to object to the withdrawal, he was not present during the plea negotiations, was not familiar with the discussions, and would forego any comment whatsoever for those reasons. The sentencing prosecutor assumed that the agreement with respect to the withdrawal of the guilty plea became operative only if a motion to withdraw was made after sentence was imposed. The court denied the plaintiff's motion to withdraw the guilty plea and imposed a sentence of not less than eighteen months nor more than three years concurrent with any parole violation time on the prior sentence. The sentencing judge stated that he felt that the plaintiff needed more than a one-year minimum sentence for the psychiatric treatment expressly requested by the plaintiff, and recommended by the probation officer and the public defender. After the court imposed the sentence, neither the plaintiff nor the public defender asked that the plaintiff be allowed to withdraw the guilty plea. After the plaintiff started to serve his sentence at the Connecticut Correctional Institution at Somers, he filed the petition for a writ of habeas corpus, the judgment on which gave rise to this appeal.

Following the hearing on the plaintiff's petition in the Superior Court, that court concluded that because a motion to withdraw the guilty plea was made and the plaintiff did receive a sentence exceeding the prosecutor's recommendation, the state had breached its agreement by objecting to the motion. The court concluded that since the agreement reached through the plea negotiations was breached, the remedy must be either specific performance of the agreement or a withdrawal of the guilty plea. See Santobello v. New York, 404 U.S. 257, 263, 92 S.Ct. 495, 30 L.Ed.2d 427. Since the court also concluded that the Circuit Court could not constitutionally impose the recommended sentence, it ordered that the plaintiff be discharged from custody unless the Circuit Court vacated the conviction and erased the guilty plea.

The Superior Court certified the respondent's appeal to this court in accordance with the provisions of § 52-470 of the General Statutes. Both parties thereafter joined in a motion that, as permitted by § 762 of the Practice Book as amended, this court expedite a hearing of the appeal which the parties represented would be ready for hearing at the next term of this court. Their joint motion was granted.

The respondent's first claim of error is addressed to the Superior Court's conclusion that there was a breach of the terms of the plea bargain necessitating the setting aside of the conviction entered on the guilty plea.

In recognition of the importance of plea bargaining in the administration of criminal justice, the United States Supreme Court has observed that the '(d) isposition of charges after plea discussions is not only an essential part of the...

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    ...shall be defined by law." Because we have examined, construed and explained this provision in extenso heretofore; Szarwak v. Warden, 167 Conn. 10, 355 A.2d 49 (1974); Walkinshaw v. O'Brien, 130 Conn. 122, 32 A.2d 547 (1943); Styles v. Tyler, supra; we need not repeat that discussion here. I......
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    • March 18, 1994 determine when we will hear a writ of error. 5 Two cases are central to the plaintiff's argument. The first is Szarwak v. Warden, 167 Conn. 10, 355 A.2d 49 (1974), in which we restated and applied state constitutional limitations on the authority of the legislature to impair the jurisdic......
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3 books & journal articles
  • The Scope of Procedural Rule-making in Connecticut: Further Confusion in State v. James and Bartholomew v. Schweizer
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    • Connecticut Bar Association Connecticut Bar Journal No. 64, 1989
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